Clarion West almost didn’t happen. My Clarion West – 1986. And when it did happen, we were sparsely populated. We were the Wyoming of writing workshops.
The original Clarion West ran from 1971 to 1973 in Seattle. It was relaunched in 1984, still in Seattle. Clarion West was an offshoot of the original Clarion, founded in 1968 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and now held in San Diego.
(Seattle and San Diego. Nothing says “catchy internet copy” more than Clarion West North and Clarion West South.)
Not long before the 1986 Clarion West, the relaunchers stepped back, and the workshop almost lost molecular cohesion. I know two of the people who saved it: queenpins Linda Jordan and Donna Davis, to whom I will always be in debt.
Unfortunately, this ninth-inning change in administration and the lack of time before opening day caused a problem in promotion and recruiting. There wasn’t much of either. My Clarion began with eight students. This was the only Clarion West class with fewer than 17.
Bonding was difficult. Everyone was either in their 20s or their 50s. There were only four or five people rattling around in the dorm. Group lunches were awkward. What little progress we made at unification was disrupted when two new people joined us for weeks five and six. (The workshop needed the money.)
This being 1986, we were all Caucasians of European descent. And this being 1986, I never noticed.
Linda, Donna, and their assistants (actually, I’m not sure they had any) were stellar, the readings were good, the parties were fun, and one of my teachers, Susie McKee Charnas, changed my life. Not only was she the first writer I’d ever met who wrote the way I wrote (growing stories forward and backward from the original idea), when she challenged me to write something beyond my reach, what came out was not science fiction. I was not a science fiction writer, despite what I had believed since I was 12. This knowledge was worth every penny I’d borrowed from my girlfriend to go to the workshop.
My Clarion had its faults (some of my colleagues probably held a dim view of me), but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
I’ve been thinking of the current class. Today was their last day. I wish them luck and a not-too-bumpy transition back to civilian society.
One of my sponsors is supporting me in memory of Vonda N. McIntyre. Vonda attended the Milford Clarion in 1970 and started Clarion West in 1971. I am also in debt to Vonda. Sleep well, Starfarer.